Friday, September 30, 2016

Can Music Treat Cancer? Snake Oil Musicology (or, He Blinded Me with Science)

A friend of mine sent me this link with his apologies—he’s aware that, as a cancer patient, I receive a lot of well-meaning links about things that supposedly treat or cure cancer. I’ve developed a thick skin about it; my treatment is going about as well as I can hope for, and I trust my doctors and nurses. I’m not feeling desperate or hopeless about my condition at the moment, so I’m not as vulnerable on this subject as I have been in the past.

But this video about treating cancer with music strikes a nerve for reasons my friend didn’t even anticipate. It’s odd enough that it’s a video about “musicology” posted by ESPN, a sports network. It’s a little more personal than my usual blog post in that I’ve been in the same room as Nolan Gasser, and my prior experience has left me with a very negative view of his work.

In this post, I will do my best to address my problems with what he is saying, rather than the many problems I have with how he presents himself to the world. While I tend to have an inclusive view of musical scholarship and hesitate to point to anything and say, “That’s not musicology,” ultimately I find Gasser’s take on musicology is reductive and harmful.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

What did the Victorians think of music and sport?

I awoke yesterday morning to find that two different people had sent me links to the same New York Times article: “Why Not a College Degree in Sports?” In it, Roger Pielke, Jr. argues that college sports have a lot in common with the performing arts—they require specialized skills and training, and people pay to see the students perform—so it should be possible to earn a degree in basketball, just as someone can currently get a bachelor’s degree in viola performance (like I did).

I’m not opposed to the idea. There is a lot of overlap between athletes and musicians, between the psychological pressure of performing in the moment and the need to maintain physical health. Just as I had to take several classes in music theory and history, Pielke cites a proposed curriculum of “sports history, sports law, sports finance.” The sports history aspect is most appealing to me, as that can become a student’s entre into the humanities—pretty much any human endeavor reveals something about the society in which it developed, so I can envision classes like “Politics and the Modern Olympic Games,” or “Ancient Precursors to Soccer: Global Perspectives.”

The proposed sports degree does enter into the ongoing debate about what the “true” purpose of higher education should be. Is college supposed to train you for a career in a specific field, or provide you with a broader knowledge base? Few sports majors would become professional athletes, just like few performance majors are be able to support themselves purely by playing. Yet such a program could help develop the skills to find alternative jobs within the field—and, ideally in my view, intellectual skills that they could apply to other fields, as well.

But that debate is not really in the purview of this blog. This statement, however, is:
And beyond such economic disparities, class distinctions of 19th-century England still shape thinking about sport: Classical music is valued by high society, while sport is for the masses.
The second half of the sentence is a cliché. The sentence as a whole is inaccurate.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Do you have good taste in music? (Snobbery in Classical Music, Part 2 of ?)

If you follow this blog on Facebook or Twitter, then you know that I promised you this post over a week ago. Sorry for the delay, but I was putting the finishing touches on my dissertation, tracking down signatures, and filing forms to complete my PhD. So, I’m now officially Dr. Shaver-Gleason, or at least I will be once all the paperwork goes through.

So! A little over a week ago, Classic FM posted a quiz to help you determine “How good is your taste in music?” It asks you about the last album you bought, whether you approve of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s existence, and which recording of Glenn Gould’s Goldberg Variations you prefer, then passes judgment on you. You might be told,
You have great taste in music
You are a denizen, a cultural and musical gatekeeper and tastemaker.
Or it might conclude,
You have awful taste in music
You're awful. We don't have time for you and your blanket praise of terrible music.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Do you have to be so snobby about classical music? (Part 1 of ?)

I have to confess, my original intent for this post was much grander than what I ended up with. I had two recent examples of classical music snobbery from opposite ends of the silly/serious spectrum: a listicle about being a classical musician, and an online discussion about a scholarly book about musicology. Both of them make assumptions about what should be considered “real” classical music, and I wanted to use them to make a greater point about how classical music is policed at every level: Is the audience knowledgeable enough? Do the performers play the right repertoire? Do the composers write in the proper style? Do the scholars say the right things? When it comes down to it, these questions are built on snobbery.

But the cliché of snobs liking classical music (or classical music being for snobs) is just too big for any one post, and trying to tackle all of it at once gave me writers’ block. So instead, this might just turn into an ongoing series where I call out classical music snobbery as I see it and offer suggestions to help steer things in a more constructive direction.